Despite advancements in technology and knowledge management, current enterprise search experiences still fall short of expectations. The promise of effectively managing knowledge and gaining a competitive advantage remains unfulfilled. This article reflects on the past aspirations of knowledge management, the role of new technologies, and the need for cultural change within organizations. Angus Norton is a technology executive with extensive experience in content discovery, highlights the ongoing challenges and the gap between user aspirations and reality in enterprise search.
Despite 30 years since the consumer internet began and 15 years since the creation of public cloud infrastructure and productivity applications, I still need help finding the content I need promptly. While Enterprise and Elastic Search technologies have progressed, they are at a turning point. According to Microsofts latest productivity work trend index report, workers still spend two full days a week on email and in meetings. We all know that these "productivity" tools are time suckers, but the biggest unsolved problem in my mind is Content discovery. It's all too hard to find.
In the past two decades, workers have undergone a significant change that began with information workers and progressed to knowledge workers. Although modern workers now have access to more information than ever, they must also retrieve the content they require from numerous storage and content management applications. As a result of the interplay between all these systems, a third modern work transformation has emerged, accompanied by a new generation of users that Gartner calls interaction workers.
I have been a Technology Executive for almost 30 years, with a 20-year stint at Microsoft working on Enterprise Software products. During this time, I contributed to developing various products, including Visual Studio, .NET, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and Windows Server. I was also one of the founding executives of Microsoft Bing. Additionally, I had a memorable experience working on the early versions of Office 365. Throughout my career, I have been part of teams working on content discovery for Enterprise content, and I have developed an obsession for identifying gaps in this area. This obsession started when I worked on consumer search at Microsoft and continued when I served as a General Manager on the Office 365 business.
My interest in content management continued when I became the Chief Product Officer at Xero, a hugely successful small business accounting Saas service. I discovered that content management is not only about unstructured content but also includes financially structured content. As an executive at Amazon, I really appreciated their no PowerPoint culture, which focuses on working backward from the customer's needs. This approach centers around a well-articulated 6-page written narrative to frame almost every product or business decision they make. As the General Manager of Amazon Workdocs, an AWS content management service initially built for managing and collaborating on these six pagers internally, I realized that search needs to deliver more regardless of the application. Whether it's horizontal search use cases like searching for content on Sharepoint or more vertical tasks like searching for financial data in highly structured relational databases like Xero, search should be more than just semantic and elastic search advances.
What happened to the aspirations of Knowledge Management?
Despite the fantastic progress made, today's Enterprise search experiences are far from the promises the Knowledge Management era of the late 1990s promised us. Yes, you read that correctly, the 1990s! In the 1990s, knowledge management experts from all the respected analyst firms and the technology vendors at the time, such as Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and others, recognized that Knowledge was becoming increasingly important as a strategic asset for organizations and predicted that this trend would continue. They believed that organizations that could effectively manage their Knowledge would have a competitive advantage over those that could not.
As an Industry, we all predicted that new technologies, such as the internet and intranets, would play an essential role in knowledge management. These technologies enable organizations to share Knowledge more quickly and efficiently and facilitate the creation of knowledge management systems. We also recognized that effective knowledge management required cultural change within organizations. Analysts predicted that organizations would need to adopt a more collaborative and sharing culture, requiring changes in leadership, communication, and incentive systems.
We also recognized the critical role communities of practice would play. We predicted that communities of practice, groups of people who share a common interest or profession and learn from one another, would become an essential component of knowledge management. Organizations must develop metrics and evaluation methods to effectively manage content to assess their initiatives' success and identify improvement areas. However, the user aspirations of this era still needed to be fully realized.
Has Enterprise Search effectively addressed the gaps the Knowledge Management Era left behind?
In today's era of instant digital answers, great content is available. However, this can be deceiving as search portals often contain too much information, making it difficult for users to find what they need. Despite efforts from software vendors and customers to bridge this knowledge gap, a solution has yet to be found.
Organizations use enterprise or universal search to organize their content. This workflow became popular with the rise of consumer search engines like Yahoo, Lycos, Alta Vista, and Google. Google's focus on relevance and accurate search results, along with its advertising model, revolutionized the consumer search industry. However, applying consumer search paradigms to implementing enterprise search has proven to be challenging due to the complexities of large organizations. Structuring content in a logical taxonomy is crucial to ensure that the vast amount of information available is easily accessible. Ensuring security is a significant responsibility for all customers, and the permissions models for accessing and sharing content can be equally complex.
The Problems with Enterprise Search Today
Ensuring our content is easily discoverable is still challenging for most of us. While technology vendors initially focused on making content searchable, more must be done. Consumer search needs have driven the development of enterprise search tools, which now offer limited scope for content portals like Sharepoint, Onedrive, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and Confluence to bridge the discoverability gap. While many content management and storage options exist, they focus solely on search mechanics and overlook the user experience. Today, enterprise search directs users to various potential services, such as knowledge bases, technical documents, online communities, and in-product help. Still, it fails to bring them back to the project and the teams they're working with.
Over the years, I have seen many reasons why enterprise content management (ECM) doesn't deliver for users, and here are just a few that are top of mind for me.
1. Low User Adoption: Today, ECM systems can be challenging to navigate, resulting in low user adoption rates. Users need proper training and understanding of the system's benefits to use the system effectively.
2. Lack of Customization: Many ECM systems are designed to be one-size-fits-all, which can lead to a lack of customization. It may be more effective if the system meets the organization's or users' specific needs.
3. Limited Integrations: ECM systems should integrate better with other systems used in the organization. However, most do not, resulting in inefficiencies and extra work for users switching between different systems.
4. Inadequate Search and Retrieval: Efficiently searching and finding documents is a crucial function of ECM systems. Most search features in today's ECM systems need to be improved or offer easy access to content, which frustrates users and results in them abandoning the system.
Organizations still need to work on addressing these issues. Interaction workers still need to perform tasks such as searching, sorting, categorizing, and filing content related to individual relationships, work items, or teams of people. Ideally, content would be organized in something other than folders or hierarchical structures. Instead, it would be readily available and accessible when needed, relevant to the relevant topics and individuals or teams involved.
I recently discovered Bithoop, a promising startup based in Boston, MA. Their mission is to help users find the content they need through intelligent discovery. They believe relying solely on enterprise search can be problematic for many reasons.
1. The current enterprise search systems don't offer personalized information to specific users. Enterprise search results are often based on keywords, but they may only be the most relevant for some users. The results can differ depending on the user's role, job function, familiarity with the product, and content preferences. Unfortunately, enterprise searches don't always group related topics together, like "Getting started" and "Installation guide," or "Integrations" and "APIs" because they may not have keywords in common as used by the user.
2. When using enterprise search, users are redirected from their intended navigation path. Although search engines effectively retrieve information, they often need help to keep up when returning users to their initial search results. This can confuse and frustrate users, especially when their search is unsuccessful. Switching between different contexts can be overwhelming, causing some users to abandon the search altogether. Additionally, enterprise search cannot determine the accuracy or relevance of the content it presents. While it can enhance search results by tracking user clicks, it cannot confirm whether they have found the information they seek. Although it improves the quality of search results, it must provide insight into how effectively users resolve their queries. Also, enterprise search only yields a 6% success rate in providing relevant results on the first try. In the B2B SaaS industry, enterprises often need help to provide easy access to information for their customers and stakeholders. According to a survey by Frost & Sullivan, only 6% of users can find the correct answer on their first search, and B2B users usually spend around 7 minutes searching for the answers to their questions.
3. Searching for information across multiple file formats is difficult with enterprise search. Locating the right content can be difficult when it's stored in various file formats and spread across different authoring and content management tools like Jira, Confluence, Sharepoint, Dropbox, and more. This is especially true for large enterprises that have accumulated a lot of legacy content and data through mergers and acquisitions. Implementing an enterprise search solution is necessary to make fragmented content searchable, but it needs to go beyond the traditional keyword-based approach. Relying solely on enterprise search content to complete daily tasks can result in users getting lost in a maze of disconnected information.
How does Bithoop aim to Solve these Problems?
At Bithoop, they believe that by combining knowledge orchestration and enterprise search, they can provide users with the most relevant information. Their content orchestration approach simplifies the process of exploring information without solely relying on search, ensuring consistency in presentation and eliminating the need to switch contexts or use external browsers. Furthermore, they have seen that this approach guarantees accurate information without directing users to lengthy, complicated documents.
Bithoop is a tool that uses keywords, entities, and categories to analyze your data. Users only need to set their preferences once, and Bithoop takes care of the rest. You don't need databases or migrations to use it, so you can enjoy its benefits immediately. Essentially, Bithoop helps you distinguish content signals from noise, making it easier to find what you need quickly and get things done.
The Bithoop AI content assistant helps users find relevant content without needing them to do entire search queries. It automatically sorts through content repositories to find the topics users are interested in and separates them into "Hoops" - proper content signals versus irrelevant content noise.
Bithoop makes life easier for Interaction Workers. Despite an influx of new productivity tools over the last decade, Bithoop recognizes that most users still start their day in their inbox. My company's research indicates that for 70% of Interaction workers, email is where most users start their work day. But users who open their email applications have endless emails to triage daily. And thanks to virtually infinite cloud content storage, they are also challenged to find the exact content they need to be productive. In the past, users would search their inbox or content management system to move their tasks forward, but more than search is required for today's interaction workers.
With Bithoop, users no longer need to perform endless searches to get started on their tasks. They no longer need to exit their inboxes to access critical emails, documents, and content associated with their daily work. Instead, the Bithoop AI assistant presents them with a stack of Hoops automatically curated and presented as subject "Hoops" of content that matters most to them. Creating subject Hoops is easy. Users simply sign in to Bithoop and spend less than 3 minutes connecting Bithoop to their favorite storage services such as Microsoft Sharepoint, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, or Slack. Users are then presented with a content control hub from which they can create their first subject hoops in seconds. Bithoop takes over from there and works in the background to constantly identify and curate content within the user's subject Hoops.
While Bithoop is in the early stages of development, I have found it game-changing for my daily workflows. I start every day in Microsoft Outlook. I spend most of my time here but need more focus and am constantly pulled in and out of other applications. At the same time, I triage my inbox and look for the content I need to action emails. Subject Hoops have been game-changing for me. All my team's and client's projects are organized in Hoops. I have Hoops set up for my current clients, so I always understand the context of projects I'm delivering for them, and I even set up a Hoop for my family projects that I'm working on with my Wife.
I loved what Bithoop was doing so much that I connected with the founders to see how I could help them. Raimund Wasner, the CEO and Founder, told me, "We believe everyone should have access to their most important data without jumping between multiple apps or searching endlessly for lost documents. That's why we created Bithoop – so Interaction workers can be more productive with less effort."
After using it for a few months, I've been highly impressed with the product. Although they are just starting out, they offer a limited Beta for anyone interested. If you're interested in revolutionizing your content and knowledge management, sign up now for a free trial of Bithoop at www.bithoop.com.